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Can Michael J. Fox Be Cured Without Destroying Human Life?
June 5, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Whenever the subject of embryonic stem cell research is debated, Michael J. Fox always seems to emerge as the celebrity spokesperson. That's because the actor is stricken with Parkinson's disease and he and others look to embryonic stem cell research to provide the hope for a cure.

Similarly, former NFL football star Boomer Esiason, whose young son has cystic fibrosis, is often front and center as a spokesman for the controversial research.

Could Fox, Esiason's son and other individuals actually be cured of dreadful diseases without harming human life?

The answer to this question is important because it could realistically lead to a truce in one of the major cultural clashes of our time.

Science is advancing so fast these days it seems as though humanity is being shoved over the ethical edge. Everyone is in favor of progress, but even proponents of embryonic stem cell research express apprehension at the thought of the intrinsic worth of the smallest and most vulnerable among us being brushed aside.

We would like scientists to expand the borders of knowledge, but we want them to do it in a moral manner that respects human dignity in the process. That's the dilemma.

But wait – riding a white stallion, decked out in shining armor and carrying a scroll that contains what could be a scientific solution to our ethical conundrum comes Stanford University's Dr. William Hurlbut.

In simplest terms, Hurlbut's idea is to take the DNA from skin or toenails and place it into an egg in such a way that the egg can't develop into a human embryo. But it can still produce pluripotent stem cells, the kind that can potentially become any type of cell in the human body.

With Hurlbut's design, we would be producing the cells only, not human beings. Everyone could sleep peacefully through the night and even look at themselves in the mirror the next morning.

It would take about three to six months of research to find out whether Hurlbut's theories would work.

It's clearly worth it if only so that bioethicists, scientists, preachers and politicians could have one shining moment of sanity in the midst of the battle, where the pursuit of progress is pitted against basic goodness.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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